The long-rumored The Legend of Zelda live-action movie is actually happening, with Nintendo confirming that it’s officially in production. It’s a logical move following The Super Mario Bros. Movie, one of the year’s highest-grossing films. Video game adaptations appear to be in fashion more than ever before — seemingly dethroning superhero movies in the process — and it’s undeniably exciting to see more and more of my favorite franchises make their way to the big screen.
But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried.
It’s not the talent behind the movies. Writer Derek Connolly did a decent job adapting a video game world into a live-action with Detective Pikachu, director Wes Ball has experience adapting a beloved property into a film with the Maze Runner series, and Avi Arad has worked on some of my favorite superhero movies. What worries me, though, is that the fan service-heavy approach that made The Super Mario Bros. Movie click with me after some initial frustrations isn’t a formula that can be as satisfying if replicated with a The Legend of Zelda movie. It’s an entirely different beast.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a film that relies very heavily on fan service and nostalgia. It’s neither a very long movie, nor very deep thematically. It’s a movie that’s easy to pick apart, and many critics did. It’s also a film tailor-made for video game fans like me to turn their brains off and enjoy. I had more fun with The Super Mario Bros. Movie when I was looking at the background for Easter eggs and anticipating what characters, power-ups, or iconic locations it would feature next, rather than critically assessing every small part of it.
Clearly, many other people were able to do that with the movie, leading to a massive box office return. However, with a movie based on The Legend of Zelda, this approach will only get Nintendo so far. The Legend of Zelda is one of Nintendo’s most narrative-focused series, with an intricate timeline full of distinct characters and settings. When I think about a The Legend of Zelda adaptation, I expect something that respects the material like Peter Jackson’s Lord of Rings or early MCU films, not a reference-filled grab bag that I shouldn’t take too seriously.
Considering that the movie will be in live action, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to mash the series’ varied history into one movie like Nintendo and Illumination did with The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Seeing The King of Red Lions, Skull Kid, and Sidon all together playing the Ocarina, Wind Waker, and Ultrahand to help Link defeat Ganon — or something equally absurd — is the kind of moment that The Super Mario Bros. Movie wouldn’t be above doing. A Zelda movie needs to reject that fan service desire lest it becomes about as memorable as Hyrule Warriors.
Of course, Nintendo has a lot of iconography to pull from. Link, Zelda, and Ganondorf all seem like surefire inclusions in a Legend of Zelda movie, and I wouldn’t be surprised if characters like Navi and Tingle play a significant role in the movie. Seeing all of those adapted to the big screen will create fleeting moments of joy, but I take the lore and narrative of The Legend of Zelda more seriously than I do with the Super Mario Bros. franchise. I imagine many players are in the same boat as me.
I can watch The Super Mario Bros. Movie and not care that it doesn’t perfectly align with the narratives of Super Mario Sunshine or Donkey Kong Country. I’ll have a more challenging time being OK with that approach in a live-action Legend of Zelda adaptation that ignores the precedent of games like Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, and Breath of the Wild.
In a The Legend of Zelda movie, I’m going to care a lot more about the quality of the writing, acting, and tonal and thematic coherence of the story. Nintendo may go for a straight-up adaptation of a game like Ocarina of Time or Breath of the Wild, but that would feel more uninspired, boring, and not in line with the creativity and innovative spirit that Nintendo is known for. To make a The Legend of Zelda film the best it can be, Ball might need to create wholly original lore and characters that fit within the franchise’s framing, which is a much more daunting task as people will compare it to what’s present in games like Tears of the Kingdom.
I still want some fan service and recognizable iconography, as that’s a big part of what makes most video game adaptations enjoyable, but a live-action adaptation of a franchise like The Legend of Zelda requires a more thematically compelling execution. Hopefully, that’s what we get whenever it hits theaters.
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